After Serial launched in the US, it seemed everyone in the English-speaking world went crazy for podcasts, with new “must-hears” being lauded every week.
For Arabic speakers, however, podcast availability has been been markedly more restricted. Now, a Jordanian app is aiming to change that with a series on social and political issues in the Middle East.
Sowt - the Arabic word for both voice and sound - initially launched in 2012 as an “audio twitter”, founder Hazem Zureiqat told Al Bawaba.
“We originally started the app as a response to increasing use of social media during the Arab Spring. People could post messages of up to 42 seconds, which others could then like, respond to or ‘echo’ - our version of the retweet.”
Zureiqat said that the platform quickly became a hub for discussion of politics and religion. “Voice is more effective for these topics. You can communicate more, more quickly, and convey your message with more emotion.”
Now the company is moving into podcasting. The first episode - about an illegitimate child in Sudan - is hosted on Soundcloud, but Zureiqat said that the podcasts would be incorporated into the Sowt platform within a month.
Ramsey Tesdell is overseeing the production of the company’s podcasts. He told Al Bawaba that audio is particularly suited to addressing sensitive topics in the Middle East.
“People don’t want to go on camera and talk about gender and sexuality, for example. But it’s easier to get people to do that with a microphone.”
“Listening and the oral tradition are important in the Arab world, and radio still reaches more people than the internet does. It’s a tradition that’s dormant in people’s minds, and we think that people are really thirsty for high quality content.”
While there are plans to expand the range of podcasts into lighter areas as well, both Zureiqat and Tesdell said that the initial emphasis on politics and society was important to them.
“The interest in these topics goes back to the roots of the company,” Zureiqat said. “The discourse on them is not very well developed, and we want to provide the high-quality content to change that.”
You can listen to Sowt’s first episode below:
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